After the formulation process has been through the necessary iterations in my head, it's time to compound. During formulation, I make trips to the essentials oils and refresh them in my memory, look at some new ones, go away and think about it some more.
Then, it’s time to compound in earnest.
I like to do this at home. I assemble my collapsible table, set up my frighteningly accurate and sensitive scales, lay out bottles, test strips, pipettes. I toyed with the idea of having a grand "perfumer's organ" made that displays all the essential oils like a library, getting a separate office somewhere.
Instead, I find the act of unboxing all the materials both therapeutic and educational. I pull each bottle and take a look at the label, think about the smell, open and dip a tester if I'm in the mood. I'll come across one I've not thought about for a while, that will set an idea off about how it might work in a fragrance I'm thinking about at that time.
There are lots of notes, in a lot of different formats. As structured as I can be, I’ve never settled on a single format to jot down ideas as they occur to me. Phone is the most obvious as it is most present and I have a couple of apps that serve the purpose.
I also have a bunch of notebooks, some of the trendy, faux old-fashioned ones that are supposed to make me feel like Ernest Hemingway and also some school exercise books. The notebooks are an excuse to indulge my pen fetish, which is an odd one as my handwriting is really bad.
Time and space change once compounding begins. Like being enthralled by something you’re writing or reading, on the occasions you look up at a clock, you’re surprised so much time passed. The music you carefully selected is lost in a background hum. It is a methodical and slow process, building the fragrance in a small vial, thoughts becoming liquid and, of course, odour.
It is a many layered process of long and short term memory, of thinking what will change the tenor of an accord and take the formulation in a different direction.
There’s a lot of stories about fortunate mistakes making classics and while I like the romanticism of that, some of the best advice a perfumer gave me was to keep track of everything that’s happening – copiously. You want to be able to recreate the accident, should it happen.
If all goes well, I’m left with a dainty container of liquid. The end of this step, satisfying as it is, simply heralds the start of the next.